“I gave this thing 17 years of hard work. It’s so personal to me and it’s hard to let go.”
Duane Drevdahl used these words as he delivered the news that Riverfest will not return in Beloit next year.
The Riverfest Board of Directors recently voted not to continue the community festival. Drevdahl cited a decline in financial support and a difficulty in recruiting new members for the board of directors as the main reasons the board felt Riverfest could not continue.
Riverfest celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The festival was founded in 1987. However, this year the festival had to be moved from its traditional location in Riverside Park because state officials objected to the closing of Riverside Drive for the festival while the Henry Avenue bridge was closed for construction.
Drevdahl noted Riverfest went through some major changes three years ago. It lost its tax exempt status and discontinued booking national musical acts and instead recruited local and regional musical acts.
The board also started Rock-Toberfest, an event that was held in the fall to generate funds to help pay down the Riverfest debt.
Those changes were successful in paying down the Riverfest debt and the board recently sent its last payments to the city and those it owed money to and the festival ended with all its bills paid.
But, Drevdahl noted it was a struggle and the outlook was not good to keep the festival going.
Drevdahl noted the festival used to receive up to $50,000 from Visit Beloit to support the festival. This past year, the festival receive no funds from Visit Beloit.
“I think a lot of it has to do with a down economy,” Drevdahl said of the lack of financial support for the festival.
However, he noted the people who served on the board and the volunteers who helped keep Riverfest going in the past 25 years deserve a great amount of credit. He said planning for the festival is a year-round job. Bands have to be recruited, background checks have to be conducted and set-up plans have to be reviewed over and over.
“I want to thank the board for their hard work and I want to thank the community that has been supportive through the years,” Drevdahl said.
Traditions are made by people who care, and one thing that always was a Riverfest mainstay — regardless of worries or woes — was the volunteers who poured their energy into serving the festival.
Each year, 250 to 300 volunteers — from high school students to senior citizens — helped make Riverfest possible, according to past stories in the Beloit Daily News archives.
They provided security, sold tickets, helped set up the festival stages and booths, clean up the grounds, direct patrons to parking areas and generally tried to make sure things ran as smoothly as possible.
Volunteers arrived each day of the festival to offer their services, even when the weather was less than desirable with soaring temperatures or sudden downpours.
Over the years Riverfest hosted national musical acts including Styx, REO Speedwagon, Ray Charles, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick and many more.